The idea for a social network specifically geared towards cannabis users came to Isaac Dietrich, appropriately enough, while he was smoking a joint with his best friend. “We thought of all our friends who smoked,” Dietrich, who has been smoking cannabis “on a daily basis” since he was 15, told the Guardian.
“Almost no one posted about it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, because that’s where their families, bosses and coworkers are connected to them,” he said. “I wouldn’t want my grandmother to see a picture of me taking a bong rip every time she logs into Facebook.”
Massroots, the marijuana-oriented social network that emerged from this stoned conversation, now boasts 625,000 users – its user base has more than doubled in the last six months – and listings for more than 1,000 cannabis businesses. The company is expecting to hit 1 million users around the end of the year.
Dietrich’s background is in political campaigns; in 2011, after high school, instead of going to college, he became field director for Virginia Republican congressional candidate Scott Rigell. His intention was to go to college after the election – he had offers from a number of schools – but instead, after the idea struck him, he maxed out $17,000 in credit cards to start Massroots. His parents “nearly had a heart attack”, he said.
His gamble paid off. Massroots was the first cannabis-related company to go public via an S1 registration statement, rather than a reverse merger, and shares in the company are now traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
It also has a dual function: connecting users with dispensaries and edibles in states such as Washington, Oregon or its home state of Colorado where the drug has already been legalised, while connecting activists with campaign resources in states which still have prohibition.
“One of the core things about Massroots – why we love doing what we do – is because we have a real opportunity to push legalisation forward,” Dietrich said, speaking to the Guardian from his exposed-brick office in Denver.
“We have a social network of a half-million cannabis consumers, all of which are very pro-marijuana [and] want to do everything possible to push the movement forward. And we’re in a very unique position in which just by developing new tools, new features for our app and pushing it out to a half-million people, hopefully we can push the conversation.”
He said that in the 2016 presidential race, the number one candidate for the legalisation of marijuana was Kentucky Republican senator Rand Paul. The other Republicans, he said, are “worse than the Democrats”, but he also said that he was worried by Hillary Clinton’s history as a “crusader [in the] war on drugs”.
It hasn’t always been a steady ride. In January, without warning, Apple dropped Massroots from the app store. Two weeks later, after an outcry from users, the app was reinstated.
And there is another potential problem on the horizon. Alyson Martin, the founder of marijuana-oriented news service CannabisWire and the author of A New Leaf: The End Of Cannabis Prohibition, said that Massroots has a head start over its competition. “They have the funding, they have name recognition. While other cannabis networking apps are popping up, they’re the most well known and best funded.”
But she also said the app was a potential test case for when cannabis becomes more accepted, and prohibition ends nationwide, “because these users are going to go to more general social networks. You don’t have social networks for every interest – there’s not an auto or dog-lovers social network; they just go to Facebook or Twitter.”
Dietrich is not worried. “When we first started Massroots, one of the key things was that it was anonymous, and you didn’t have to prove your real name and real picture, and a lot of people utilised that at first,” he said.
But now, he said, they have seen the paradigm completely shift. “Now people are more than willing to post pics of themselves smoking and not necessarily care who sees it.” More than that, he said, serious hedge funds and institutional investors are willing to consider jumping into the cannabis arena. “Two years ago – a year ago – they wouldn’t even have considered it,” he said, “and that’s because there’s so much money about to flow into this sector.
“That’s what’s really going to move things forward,” he added.